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Yoga's Rx for RSI
Yoga's Wisdom Can Be Applied to Both Prevention and Relief of Repetitive Stress Injuries

Evolution is a slow process. That's why our bodies rebel against modern day, supposedly normal activities such as sitting at a desk for long periods of time, hunching over a keyboard, and typing away with claw-like fingers. We haven't developed the physical resources to handle these tasks. The spine is made up of 33 vertebrae which form a flowing, S-shaped curve (at least that's the way it's supposed to look). The joints in our fingers and wrists have an incredible range of motion and mobility (or they should). Our shoulders are meant to be fluid, a combination of muscle and bone that consistently moves with grace and beauty (not just on a good day). Those who have studied anatomy to any extent can't help but be amazed at what the human body is capable of doing. But we weren't meant to be confined in cubicles and forced into static and unnatural postures. Nor were we designed to repeat the same movements over and over without resting. The body that is capable of doing that and flourishing has not yet evolved (and if it were to evolve, can you imagine what it might look like? Very robotic, probably).

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Our bodies give out signals when subjected to such misuse and overuse. The first warning is usually stiffness. Then the stressed joints begin to burn, swell or become numb. And the body will keep sending off increasingly more painful signals that something is wrong until it gets relief - whether you choose it or not. An RSI, or repetitive strain injury, basically means that your body has made the choice for you - you are now forced to stop whatever activity that was causing your body pain. If the injury is bad enough, your mobility could be permanently hampered. Anyone who engages in an activity that involves repeating the same movements over and over will benefit from Yoga, first and foremost because it teaches you to listen to your body.

While that's only the beginning, it's also the key. Once you connect with your body through a discipline such as Yoga, you find that you can't treat it in the same way you did before. When your body feels uncomfortable you really notice it, and you want to do something about it. If you learn what good posture feels like through Asanas such as Mountain Pose (Tadasana) and Staff Pose (Dandasana), then you're a lot more aware of the times when you are scrunched over in your chair or standing with your shoulders and hips askew. You're also more likely to sit or stand up straight, and breathe deeply and properly. RSIs are hastened through bad form; Yoga's focus on good form helps you to know when your posture and movements are sloppy.

Yoga is also a great overall strength builder. A weak back spells disaster for someone who spends the day constantly lifting heavy objects. Yoga has many postures, such as Cobra, Bow and Locust which build back muscles and keep the spine supple. They're also helpful for those who spend a good portion of the day sitting. Even the wrists need to be strong and flexible to handle the nonstop keyboard and mouse use of many computer jobs. That's why a pose like Downward Facing Dog is invaluable for those who spend a lot of time at a desk.

Sports enthusiasts aren't off the hook when it comes to RSIs, either - tennis elbow is an RSI, and runners - especially those whose form is less than perfect or who over or under pronate - can suffer overuse injuries. The best thing any active individual can do is cross train to avoid RSIs, and Yoga is an excellent cross training choice. Eagle Pose, Warrior II, and Spinal Twist are some great Asanas for a variety of exercisers.

Ideally Yoga can help prevent RSIs, but what if you're already a sufferer? The last thing that someone with severe Carpal Tunnel Syndrome feels like doing is Down Dog! Those with an RSI can find relief with Yoga if they take it easy and gradually build up their program (of course they need to get the approval of their health care provider first). With its precision and use of props, Iyengar Yoga is easily adaptable to any practitioner's level. What's important is to locate a teacher who can cater to your needs. If you really feel dubious about your ability to do Yoga, find a class with "gentle" or "easy" in the title and talk to the teacher before you start. He or she will make sure your practice is tailored to your capabilities. You may even consider starting off with a private session. The instructor can also recommend simple poses and stretches to do when you're away from class - it's very important to ask for these tips.

Whether you're trying to avoid RSIs or you're already dealing with one, it's an absolute necessity to take frequent breaks from whatever your repetitive activity is. This is a good time to practice some Yoga moves. You can try a specific routine - many can be found - or, even better, you can put together your own based on your Yoga teacher's recommendations. And if, for some reason, you feel compelled to do a specific stretch - do it. Even if our bodies aren't really built to do many of the unnatural activities we subject them to, they're willing to accommodate us - just so long as we listen to them.

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